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Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Changing Religious Face of the Court

In the rush of events surrounding the Roberts nomination, one fact that has been noted but not much remarked upon -- and perhaps that silence is itself significant -- is that Roberts, a Catholic, will bring the total number of Catholics on the Court to four (including Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas).  That's more than any other religion followed by any member of the Court.  (Prior to the current Court lineup, there were only seven Catholic Justices over the Court's history.)  We've come a long way from 1960, when John F. Kennedy's Catholicism was, for a time, a serious campaign issue.  That this sea-change in the makeup of the Court (or the fact that there is no longer one "Jewish seat") is largely treated as unremarkable represents a quiet but important change in the makeup of our elite institutions and the elite individuals who occupy them.  I don't know whether the folks at Mirror of Justice have commented on this yet, but I hope they do.

That there is no longer, I hope, a "Catholic question" or a "Jewish question" in circumstances like this does not mean one cannot, in good faith, ask interesting questions about the intersection between nominees' faiths and the nomination process.  More on this in a subsequent and lengthy post.

Posted by Paul Horwitz on July 23, 2005 at 05:12 PM in Law and Politics, Religion | Permalink

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Comments

We Episcopalians are not getting our fair share of the total. What, you say? We number fewer than 3 million nationwide, and more Supreme Cout Justices have been Episcopalian than any other denomination or religion. It's not fair. It's blatant discrimination.

Posted by: Abby | Jul 27, 2005 1:44:19 AM

I would say, in response to the first comment, that although it is certainly and emphatically true that the country's view of religious faith has significantly changed in our lifetimes, that is not such a long time. When only a few decades pass between Sandra Day O'Connor being unable to obtain a job at a law firm and her appointment to the Court, or Alan Dershowitz being unable to obtain a major law firm job and becoming -- well, becoming Alan Dershowitz -- it's worth takingnote of it from time to time. That the religious makeup of the Court has changed so much from what used to be the standard demographic makeup of an elite institution, and more or less without notice, I think it's worth noticing (or I think the failure to notice it is itself noteworthy). On the second comment, folks are welcome to correct me, but I had understood Thomas had returned to the Catholic Church.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jul 24, 2005 5:37:02 PM

I believe that Thomas is a lapsed Catholic. He did grow up Catholic and considered the priesthood and attended Holy Cross. But he is divorced from his first wife and attends an Episcopal church. See David Corn in the Nation August 1990 (? anyway the year when thomas was nominated and confirmed.)

"Thomas, once a practicing Catholic, has been attending Truro, a
charismatic Episcopal church, for about a year."

Posted by: howard | Jul 24, 2005 5:29:55 PM

I look forward to your next post because I do not know what to make of this one. It has always been my view that Supreme Court appointee have always been 1) absolutely dedicated to America, 2) absolutely pro-government with some "liberal" or "conservative" nuance but in the end chiefly concerned, metaphorically speaking, with the collection of next year's taxes, and 3) people with impeccable reputations, education and experience. Our country, as a whole, has moved very far away from anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic bias in my lifetime. Is it a surprise that the "elites" you refer to have as well?

Posted by: nk | Jul 23, 2005 10:00:51 PM

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